Hats off to her

Jane Taylor has designed headwear for some of the world’s most recognisable women from members of royal families to entertainers – and now the milliner is taking her talents to the Dubai Future Champions Festival

Beyoncé, Rita Ora and Kate Middleton – the Duchess of Cambridge, are just a few of milliner Jane Taylor’s clients. Growing up in Henley, a quaint English market town a few strides from the River Thames, she inherited the creative gene from her mother, a florist, and was inspired by the countryside landscape of her youth.

Shunning the obvious fashion choices of creating clothes or shoes, she was determined to make intricately designed headpieces. This year, she fulfills a long-term ambition and is opening a store on Chelsea’s famous King’s Road in London. She is also participating in the Dubai Future Champions Festival. Vision meets to the young designer.

Vision: You studied embroidery at degree level, lived on a houseboat to save money and spent years planning your career. Setting up must have involved a certain level of risk. What kept you motivated?

Jane Taylor: I think it's an obsession really; I love creating and designing things. I love seeing my visions come alive, from hats to this new shop on King’s Road. I’ve always thought I would have a beautiful shop in Chelsea, I think if you visualise things they do come true. Millinery is a traditional British craft and I think it’s important to keep it alive. Many skills are being lost at the moment.

V: But across the board, there seems to be a renewed appreciation for artisanal craftsmanship. Would you agree?

JT: I do think there is something of a comeback. I think people have had enough of mass produced pieces, they’re often not very flattering. People are kind of moving back to not shopping in supermarkets and going instead to the artisan deli. You can tell the difference, handmade versus factory produced. I’m also interested in keeping my craft in Britain, I’m trying to keep all the new accessories I’m making produced here, and even made in London. Keeping it really local is important to support craftspeople.

V: When a client approaches you, how do you advise them on what looks best?

JT: It’s important to get to know them a bit, to understand their personality, likes and dislikes. Normally when I meet them and look at their outfit, I can work out what kind of style they would suit. It’s a process of gauging how dramatic or classic they want to be, that’s the important element – creating a hat that’s perfect for them and the occasion. If they will be wearing a big skirt, for instance, they need a hat with a big brim. It’s all about proportions. I don’t really do ‘matchy-matchy’. The tone has to be flattering, so hand dying is important to achieve the best colour that will complement a person’s skin. They often just let me create whatever I want, and then come back for a fitting after a few weeks.

V: Headwear and other accessories seem to allow for the most striking, unusual shapes in fashion. Was this something that attracted you?

JT: Working in the form of millinery brings together the things that I love, such as sculpture and natural materials. I love creating something out of natural elements, like feathers and flowers; I hope it is as beautiful as flora and fauna. I have a huge vintage chest of antique embellishments I’ve collected over the years. They’re my little treasures – one off pieces I use. I only let clients have them if they really appreciate them.

V: How can you tell is someone genuinely appreciates them?

JT: You can just see the sparkle in their eye. I want people to feel confident and really enjoy what they’re wearing.

V: You’re involved in the fashion strand of the Dubai Future Champions event. Can you tell us more about this?

JT: I’m designing a collection that will be sold at the event, consisting of unisex trilbies, cocktail hats and a hero piece. The universities of Cambridge and Oxford are racing in the Vision Varsity Race, and so I’ve used their colours in the pieces, plus there is some influence of the Dubai branding. It’s a limited edition line. They are handmade so I usually make maximum 10 to 15 of each style per colour. My millinery has three designers – it’s hard to find milliners who are as particular as I am. What’s exciting is that apart from summer, milliners hardly ever get to make extravagant hats. Winter is more tailored, so it’s great to have an autumn event where fashion can be a focus. I’m also on a judging panel.

V: You have designed for many high-profile clients. Is there a recent highlight, and who would you like to work with going ahead?

JT: Last year, I designed for Beyoncé. I worked with her stylist, created a few designs and they picked what was most suitable. It was for a trailer for a tour, On the Run, and was quite a fun thing to do. It was a vintage lace mask, and had feathers, crystals and tiny black pearls. I would like to work with Marion Cotillard, she’s very elegant, sophisticated and beautiful.

V: What inspires you?

The flowers, the nature around me. It’s a bit more difficult in London, so I go back to the countryside regulary. Often I will get some orchids and sit down and do some life drawing with watercolours. It’s important to take the time and look at something properly. You have to inspect something in detail, look at the different colours and shapes, and sit and be quiet when focusing. That’s a process that inspires my designs.

I also love McQueen, how can you not? It’s the balance of beauty and the edgy dark side of his work that’s so clever.

V: What are you looking forward to, what can we expect?

JT: I've designed a collection of gloves, they’re hand-dyed and leather with little pearl studs. Another range is perforated suede, and some three-quarter length. Plus I’ve started doing clutch bags. Accessories make an outfit, it’s those little elements that can turn ordinary into chic.

I don’t really do ‘matchy-matchy’

Jane Taylor, Milliner

V: What's the most expensive hat you've made?

JT: I made a piece for Barclays Wealth, for an advert shown in Monaco. I created a hat covered in vintage lace, trimmed with vintage feathers, with handmade roses and topped with Swarovski crystals. That was just under £6,000. We do have ready-to-wear pieces starting from £110 though. I don’t want to scare anyone off!

V: And finally, how often do you wear a hat yourself?

JT: In summer I don’t wear a hat. Each winter I make myself a hat, but within days of wearing it, a client will buy it from me. In the past, if I find out I am going to the races, I am still making my hat in the morning of the event. Last year, I was still stitching it on the train. It gets so busy. For Ascot hats, each one takes up to three days to make. We do about 70 per race, including ready to wear.